By Frank Werner
It does not happen all that often that an old antiquarian bookseller sees a catalogue and thinks, a little enviously: “I wish that was one of mine.“ Paul Kainbacher’s latest catalogue “Im Herzen Afrikas” is one of those.
The presentation is generous, in a large quarto format. Nearly every item is illustrated in colour. The numbering, which often makes a catalogue lifeless, has been omitted. The text is set in single or double columns, which does not make reading hectic, rather it adds a component of surprise and dynamics. Well, these are externals, it is the content that counts. But still, a mood is set, the reader is curious and elated.
Yes, and the reader is rewarded with a scope of books on Africa that spans five centuries and ranges between € 25 and € 250,000. There is something here for every budget, every taste and every part of Africa. The description of the less expensive or very well known books are short, Kainbacher knows that his customers are familiar with the standard works of their chosen field.
I hardly know where to begin. The catalogue contains so many highlights that I tend to forget that even the “standard” titles are important and hard to find. There is so much to be discovered. Already the second item is something special. It is a collection of photographs, calling cards and about 150 letters from the estate of Carl Ebenau, who was general agent of the German East African Company in the late 19th century (€ 5,500). A very scarce book by the Austrian geologist Freiherr Drasche von Wartinberg “Die Insel Reunion (Bourbon) im Indischen Ozean. Eine geologisch-petrographische Studie … “ is offered for € 7,500. Every collector of Africana knows that Harnier’s “Reise am Oberen Nil” is rarely found complete, and often in poor condition. Here we have a good, clean copy in the original binding. (€ 14,000).
Ludwig Ritter von Höhnel was an Austrian naval officer, geographer and explorer, chiefly of Africa. He accompanied Count Teleki’s expedition into Central Africa. One of the results of this expedition, printed in manuscript, is “Bergprofil Sammlung während Graf S. Telekis Afrika Expedition 1887-88”, with many folding profiles (€ 19,000). Höhnel later accompanied the American W. A. Chanler to Kenia. This voyage is documented in two unique collections. The first contains 53 original photographs by Höhnel, taken during this and other voyages between 1892 and 1905. The other lot is a collection of letters written during the Höhnel-Chanler Expedition, plus correspondence from and with Höhnel (€ 25,000 per lot). A unique insight into the life and work of this important Austrian explorer.
A real classic of Africana is Kolb’s “Caput Bonei Spei Hodiernum (1719)”, which describes the Cape of Good Hope and its inhabitants (€ 11,000). Vasco da Gama was the first to circumnavigate Africa. His epochal voyage is described in the oldest and most expensive book in the catalogue, Montalboddo’s “Newe unbekanthe landte Und ein newe weldte in Kurtz verganger zeythe erfunden (Nürnberg 1508)”. This post incunable also describes other notable voyages of the time, amongst them that of Columbus (€ 250,000). Lastly I should mention the astounding set of six huge tomes by David Roberts “The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia”, sumptuously illustrated with 250 tinted or coloured lithographs. It is one of the most important and elaborate ventures of nineteenth century publishing (€ 115,000).
Seeing all these unique, wonderful and rare books described here, one should not forget that the catalogue also contains many other scarce and important items that will make any collector’s heart beat faster. So, my advice to you is: Do yourself and your collection a favour. Order the catalogue and order from the catalogue!
If you should be in Austria on 14th March, go to the charming town of Baden near Vienna and visit Paul Kainbacher’s “Bibliophile Evening”. Not only will you be able to view the books described in the catalogue, but there will also be two talks on the exploration of Africa by professors of the University of Vienna.
I admire Paul Kainbacher for finding new paths in a field that was supposed to have been well-trodden. His catalogue is a well-ordered repository of extraordinary books, manuscripts and items, accompanied by knowledgeable descriptions. And if anyone should ask “Quid novi ex Africa?” I can say with confidence: “See Kainbacher’s catalogue!”